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The No-Buy Solution

February 15, 2011 — By Dr. Pete

Tea MugsI'm a pretty aggressive unclutterer. Once, when I was about 12, I cleaned out my cardboard desk (the legs were hollow, so it held a lot of crap) and never looked back. Yeah, I know – it's not quite normal. Still, there are things that I let pile up, even though I know better.

I'm a tea hoarder.

It's not exactly a reality-TV level problem, but I buy a lot of tea. Money's not the issue, although I have some Grade 5 rose petal tea that came in what looks like a dime bag and I'm pretty sure cost more, ounce-per-ounce, than heroin. The problem is that it piles up, some of it for years, and before I use up the old stuff, I rush out to buy something new and exciting.

Every time I look in the cabinet, I'm reminded of years of past commitments, and how I somehow didn't live up to them. It sounds melodramatic, I know, but it's funny how the little things in your life can become symbols of larger problems.

I can't solve it overnight.

I'm good at cramming, but I can't drink 500 cups of old tea in a week (or, at least, I probably shouldn't). I also can't cram reading 30 books that are collecting dust, organizing a 3 year back-log of files, and on and on. These things take time – small bits of it every day for months, in some cases.

Mentally, it's a bit exhausting. I want to clear out the debris of the past, but I'm not about to keep a spreadsheet of every piece of minutiae in my life. I needed a simpler solution – a nudge to move in the right direction without hiring a personal assistant just to manage my tea habit.

So, I made a rule.

It seems simple now, but I have a unique form of thick-headedness. The problem isn't the old stuff – the problem is when I run out and buy some new thing without dealing with all the old, perfectly good things (that I excitedly ran out to buy last week/month/year). So, I decided I can't buy any new tea until I use up the old tea. I can't buy any new books until I make a dent in all the old books (and on and on).

It's a one-two punch of carrot and stick to make me act like a grown-up. On the one hand, there's that negative of not getting new stuff, but on the other hand, I'll look forward to that new stuff more (and guilt-free) when I've dealt with all the old stuff. Plus, there's nothing to remember – if I want to drink some tea or read a book, the pile's there waiting.

It's silly, but it works.

As I use up things and make way through my reading list (I've finished 10 books in the past 45 days and am midway through 2 more), I just feel better. I know these sound like small, ridiculous things, but they're bricks in a bigger wall, and I can feel it crumble a bit more every time I deal with something from the past.

So, what's weighing on you? What part of the past could you deal with if you just gave it 30 minutes a day or put your own No-Buy rule into place?

Image licensed from iStockPhoto (Lukasz Pabian, ©2009)